Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Honoring Women Veterans: A Message from Under Secretary Alison Hickey

    Secretary Shinseki Hands Out a Challenge Coin

    Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki hands out challenge coins after meeting with Veterans Affairs workers at the Fort Harrison VA Regional Office in Helena, Mont., July 6, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    A woman whom I have always respected and admired is Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a leader amongst men. She was generations ahead of her time and she had an uncanny ability to move women to act.  In 1942, as this country was engrossed in a war like we had never seen, she said, “This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this case, are a weapon waiting to be used.”

    Her words became a rally cry in my life when I joined the Air Force and entered the first class of women to enroll at the Air Force Academy. It was my rally cry then, it was my rally cry throughout my career, and it still motivates me today as I lead the Veterans Benefits Administration within the Department of Veterans Affairs. Eleanor’s words appealed to a young woman in 1976 about to embark on an adventure I could only imagine because they reminded me that women can make a difference in military service to this nation. I knew this because the women who had served in the military before me had made the difference – their service had made the difference to me: they broke barriers that allowed me to enroll in the Academy and eventually achieve the rank of brigadier general.

    Today, women serve in the US military in unprecedented numbers – 12 percent of those who have served since September 11 are women. Women are the fastest growing population within the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Women have the honor of wearing the uniform – something that only 10 percent of the entire U.S. population can claim – because of the women who served before us and broke down barriers.

    During the Revolutionary War, women had to disguise themselves as men to serve. The most famous woman credited with doing this is Deborah Sampson of Plympton, Massachusetts. She was only discovered after she was wounded for the third time. She received an honorable discharge and war pension.

    Sampson made a difference to Dr. Mary Walker who did not have to disguise herself to serve. Dr. Mary Walker became the first woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for casualty care she provided to Civil War soldiers. She also wrote legislation that created a permanent nurse corps. Walker made the difference to more than 33,000 Army and Navy nurses who served during World War I The Military nurses made the difference to countless service members whose lives they saved.

    During World War II, women flew airplanes in the Women Airforce Service Pilots – WASP. They flew stateside as ferries, test pilots and anti-aircraft artillery trainers. The Navy created WAVES -- Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service – women reservists who defended America.The Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, and the Coast Guard established the Women’s Reserve.The women who served in these units made the difference. Their dedication to our country showed that women are as capable as men, and in 1948 women were granted permanent status in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the newly created Air Force.

    In Korea, 500 Army nurses served in combat zones healing our injured. In the 1960s, about 7,000 military women served in Southwest Asia. In the 1970s the academies and ROTC opened to women.

    In 1983, the Army named a woman, Galen Grant, the first “Drill Sergeant of the Year.” I am sure Galen Grant’s service made the difference to Army Sgt. Major Teresa King, who in 2009 became the first woman commandant of the Army Drill School at Ft. Jackson SC. where she still currently serves. I can only imagine how future generations of service women Sgt. Maj. King will impact.

    In the 1990s women continued breaking barriers and impacting future generations. My Air Force Academy classmate, Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, became the fist U.S. military woman in space aboard the Shuttle endeavor. In 2005, Army National Guard Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester of Kentucky became the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star for combat action.

    Today, women serve multiple rotations performing security patrols in war zones even though the ban on combat has not officially been lifted. They fly jets, serve aboard ships, gather our intelligence, provide security, patrol dangerous environments, and execute their military duties flawlessly.

    At the Department of Veterans Affairs, we honor the service of all Veterans -- all 23 million alive today. We honor their families who support them throughout their service, and we honor their survivors who make unimaginable sacrifices everyday in the absence of their loved ones.

    We are working harder than ever to reach out to women Veterans, many of whom do not embrace their identities as Veterans. We want them to know about the programs they have earned with their service. We want each woman who has served in uniform to proudly call themselves Veterans.

    The VA Center for Women Veterans is focused on women Veterans’ issues and advocates for Women Veterans by helping to shape for VA, our partners, and policy makers, what it means to treat women Veterans with dignity and respect.

    The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has Women Veterans Program Managers at all VA medical centers and at outpatient clinics in the community. VHA has built a program that helps women Veterans navigate the VA medical system and utilize our women-specific wellness and comprehensive medical programs.

    At the Veterans Benefits Administration, we’re expanding our numbers of full-time Women Veterans Benefits Coordinators, who are trained and focused on helping women.These coordinators will advocate for women Veterans in every one of our 57 regional offices.

    Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki has formed a VA Task Force on Women Veterans to identify gaps in services and opportunities to better serve women Veterans, and develop results-oriented recommendations to advance VA's efforts to address women Veterans' needs. He is committed to breaking down all barriers in VA to better serve our women Veterans.

    The efforts include championing our Homeless Women Veterans Pilot Project, which was created to provide a safe environment for homeless women Veterans to obtain the services they need.

    We also are devoting resources to help women Veterans find jobs. These women have extraordinary skills, abilities and commitment that I know employers want in their employees.

    “This is not a time when women should be patient,” Eleanor said. Generations of military women have heard that call and taken it to heart. I am proud of their legacy and I am proud to be a part of it. I am honored to serve all Veterans, their families and their survivors. I am a Veteran!

    Thank you for your service and happy Veterans Day.

    Allison A. Hickey is the Under Secretary for Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • Regional Town Hall Meetings Focus on Engaging Men in Ending Violence Against Women

    In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month this past October, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development collaborated to hold ten town hall events throughout the country on the topic of Engaging Men and Boys in Ending Violence Against Women.

    These town halls provided a unique opportunity for federal and community partners to participate in important discussions regarding the inclusion of men in ending violence against women and helped to further the efforts of those working tirelessly for this cause in local and regional communities across the nation.

  • President Obama Speaks at the National Women's Law Center Annual Awards Dinner

    President Obama Speaks at the National Women's Law Center Annual Awards Dinner on November 9, 2011. This year's dinner celebrated the 50th anniversary of the women freedom riders.

    Download Video: mp4 (204MB) | mp3 (20MB)


  • Protecting Our Nation’s Youth

    Ed note: This blog was cross-posted from the White House Blog.

    For many kids, their first cigarette leads to a lifetime of addiction, and for many, serious disease. With 20 percent of U.S. high school students smoking, keeping tobacco out of the hands of minors can have a huge impact on our nation’s health now and in the future. That’s why President Obama and his Administration are committed to doing all we can to stop kids from smoking. 

    We took an important step toward achieving that goal when the Food and Drug Administration issued more than 1,200 warning letters to retailers for selling tobacco to kids. The letters come after we conducted more than 27,500 inspections nationwide. Most retail store owners follow the law and don’t sell cigarettes to kids, but we’re reminding those who don’t that they have a responsibility to follow the law and that there are serious consequences if they fail to do so.   

    You can search our database of inspection reports for tobacco retailers by name and location to see how your community checks out. You can also take the pledge to protect our nation’s children by supporting retailers who follow the law and do not sell cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to youth. Let your local establishments know you appreciate their efforts to protect our kids. 

    These kinds of activities are just a part of our campaign to stop children from smoking. President Obama was proud to sign the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act which gives us new tools to help stop young people from smoking before they start. Those tools include graphic warning labels that make the danger of smoking abundantly clear. Big tobacco companies are trying to stand in the way of these commonsense measures to protect our kids, but we’re confident their attempts will ultimately fail. 

    We know our campaign against tobacco is a ‘winnable battle’. It is a public health challenge where the strategies to address it are proven and in-hand.  We have the science. Under President Obama, we have the leadership and commitment. And now, more than ever, we have the laws and policies that will allow us to protect the health of our nation’s kids.

    Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

  • Council on Women and Girls Weekly Highlights

    Welcome to the Council on Women and Girls Weekly Highlights. If you have friends or family who would like to support the efforts of the Council on Women and Girls, please visit our website and share this link with others on Facebook and Twitter.

    Big News - Tonight, President Obama will be speaking at the National Women’s Law Center Annual Awards Dinner. You can watch the President live at 8:30 p.m. Eastern as he discusses the issues we care about most.

    President Obama has spent much of the last week fighting at home and abroad for a strong economic future for all Americans. He continued to stress that We Can’t Wait for Congress to take action, and announced a series of actions to streamline government processes and support economic growth. The President announced important steps to improve the quality of services and accountability at Head Start centers across the country. The White House also highlighted what a jobs act looks like and published an interactive map that details specifics of the Act.

    On Thursday, November 3rd, the President traveled to France for a meeting of the G20-- a gathering of 20 nations that represent the world's most important industrialized economies. In addition to working sessions with the full assembly of leaders, the President also held bilateral talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    Back at home, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to join Governor, Bev Perdue, and women from across the state to speak about Empowering Women and Girls at the North Carolina Governor’s Conference for Women.

    Twitter Q&A with MomsRising

    On Tuesday, members of Momsrising, participated in a “Twitter Q&A” with Jon Carson, the Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Women from across the country sent great questions on a variety of issues, including the American Jobs Act. Also, check out an additional conversation on Domestic Violence at, for a Q&A with Jon Carson and Rachael Yamagata.

    Check Out This Video

    First Lady Michelle Obama takes the stage after a performance by The Young People's Chorus of New York City during the President's Council on the Arts and Humanities Youth Event in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 2, 2011.

    Looking for Female Campus Leaders

    The White House Office of Public Engagement is proud to announce the first ever Campus “Champions of Change” Challenge. The Challenge invites college and university students from across the country to demonstrate how their student-led project is improving their campus community and helping America Win the Future. The deadline for applications is Friday, December 9, 2011. The Challenge finalists will be invited to a concluding event in spring 2012 and will also be highlighted by mtvU and MTV Act.

    White House Fellows Program – Now Accepting Applications

    The White House Fellows Program is the nation’s most prestigious program for leadership and public service. Founded in 1964 by President Johnson as a way to promote public service and engage emerging leaders, Fellows spend one year in Washington, DC working in the offices of Cabinet Secretaries, senior White House staff, and other high level Executive Branch officials. Alumni include General Colin Powell, the Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte, and historian/author Doris Kearns Goodwin.

    Applications for the White House Fellows Program are currently available online. The deadline for completed applications is January 13, 2012. You can learn more about the Program during an interactive live video chat on Thursday, November 10th at 12:00 p.m. Eastern or view it at a later date online. For more detailed information, you can visit the White House Fellows website.


    20111108 Head Start Announcement

    President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, right, talk with students while visiting a classroom at the Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Nov. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Our Children Can’t Wait: New Regulations Increase Accountability and Boost Quality in Head Start

    Partnering with Australia to Stop Violence Against Women
    Announcing the Winners of the Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge

    Text4baby Shows Promising Results for Moms

    A mother and daughter sharing a meal in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals Program

    A mother and daughter sharing a meal in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals Program. (Photo by Alain McLaughlin)

    The Office of Public Engagement Champion Non-Profit of the Week: GLIDE

    An “Eco-Renaissance” Woman

    First Lady Michelle Obama Talks Healthy Habits with Toddlers

    Fort Monroe Becomes a National Monument
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    Avra Siegel is the Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.


  • Our Children Can’t Wait: New Regulations Increase Accountability and Boost Quality in Head Start

    20111108 Head Start Announcement

    President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, right, talk with students while visiting a classroom at the Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Nov. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Ed note: This blog was cross-posted from the White House Blog.  

    We know that the first years of our children’s lives are critical. That’s when the most rapid development happens in their brains and when they pick up the social, emotional, and academic skills that will help them succeed.  When children get what they need during these early years, it can lay the foundation for success in school and through every stage of their lives.

    President Obama and HHS’s announcement today of historic reforms to the Head Start program will help to ensure that all children in Head Start are attending top-notch programs that will help them reach their full potential. The Department of Health and Human Services will implement new rules that will – for the first time in the program’s history– require all Head Start grantees that fail to meet a new set of rigorous quality benchmarks to compete for continued federal funding.

    Under the new rules, programs that fall short of quality benchmarks will have to compete. We will put out a notice to all early education providers in their communities: If you can do better, you’ll get the Head Start funding.  And after the initial round of reviews, Head Start providers will continue to be evaluated every five years to make sure they’re maintaining a high standard of performance.

    The best Head Start programs do much more than teach kids their ABCs. They help children develop the self-control and critical thinking they need to become successful learners. They connect kids with essential health services like immunizations that they may otherwise go without. They get moms and dads engaged in their children’s education. They put kids on a path to opportunity.

    This rule is a key part of the President’s broader agenda to strengthen Head Start. In the last two years, we’ve also improved training for Head Start providers, provided mentors for programs that want to improve, and created 20 Centers of Excellence that are models for the rest of the Head Start community. Combined with this new system of evaluation and competition, Head Start providers today have more tools and more incentives to improve than ever before in the program’s history.

    In a world where the jobs follow the best trained workers, America’s capacity to lead the world will depend on our success in educating all of our children, including those most at risk for falling behind. The early years are critical to that success. This Administration will continue to work to make sure our children can grow up with the tools and experience they need to compete.

    Today’s Head Start children are tomorrow’s workforce.  Today we are taking a historic step toward making sure all children in Head Start get the top notch early education they need to succeed.

    Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.